The Riff - October 2007

Your Friendly Guide to Crazy New Musical Genres

| Mon Oct. 22, 2007 5:18 PM EDT

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If language, as William S. Burroughs said, is a virus, then music is its most virulent and mutable form, infecting you and transforming itself until suddenly everyone you know is dancing to gabber. Especially in the fast-paced, often producer-centric worlds of hip-hop and dance music, new genres seem to pop up faster than coked-up journalists can assign them names. Here's some names you might have seen tossed around lately, with my completely scientific ratings of their legitimacy as truly "different" than music that came before and their potential for longevity.

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US Customs Returns Death Cab for Cutie Bassist's Hard Drive

| Mon Oct. 22, 2007 4:04 PM EDT

mojo-photo-chriswalla.JPGThey give it a "6.4." No, seriously, this is kind of odd: last month, a hard drive containing music files belonging to Death Cab bassist Chris Walla was seized by U.S. Customs officials when a studio employee tried to take it back into Washington State from Canada. The story started to make the rounds last week, with Walla joking about his hard drive being "waterboarded" and wondering aloud if the overtly political content of some of the songs might pose a problem. Well that got a Customs guy all perturbed: MTV News quotes representative Mike Milne as saying Walla's comments to the press "got my ire up," that the hard drive was only seized because of commercial merchandise paperwork issues, and besides, they'd been trying to return it. Wow, a couple news stories come out, and suddenly Homeland Security is a service-oriented organization.

Barsuk Records founder Josh Rosenfeld doesn't believe that the album's political content had anything to do with the seizure—after all, how could they have listened to the files beforehand?—but finds the random seizure of personal property a bit disturbing, saying "this is a case of a U.S. artist who went into Canada to record and then wanted to bring the fruits of that recording back home... it doesn't seem like a commercial product to me." Well, in any event, they had master tapes, and the album is coming out on schedule, and now, as Rosenfeld says, "at least everyone knows Chris Walla has a solo record coming out." Hmm, now who's the conspiracy theorist?

Que e Technobrega?

| Fri Oct. 19, 2007 5:15 PM EDT

mojo-photo-tecnobrega.jpgToday's New York Times features an article on the northern Brazilian "tecnobrega" scene, and while the focus is the "piracy" and decentralized distribution model, they don't really talk about the music itself, which makes it seem like it must be almost unfathomably exotic. Well, in fact, the opposite is true: the whole point of brega is the cheesy accessibility, and the "tecno" prefix is a little misleading, since this is no, uh, 808 State. Actually, it sounds a lot like reggaeton, and the loping rhythm will be familiar to anyone who turns on the radio in LA (a kind of "boom-chicka-booom-chick"). I found a couple videos to check out after the jump.

Friday Implies It's Music News Day

| Fri Oct. 19, 2007 4:23 PM EDT

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  • Rapper T.I. may be in serious trouble after he was arrested in a sting trying to purchase machine guns and silencers. Police also found a half a pound (!) of marijuana in his car. A phalanx of supporters attended a court date in Atlanta today, including up-and-coming hip-hop star Young Jeezy, where T.I. pleaded "not guilty."

  • Former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr was named a Visiting Professor at the University of Salford in Manchester, where he will deliver "a series of workshops and masterclasses to students on the BA Popular Music and Recording degree." Professor Marr, what do you do if your lead singer is lying about how much he's paying the drummer and the bassist?
  • The recording industry goes after Usenet for illegal music file-sharing. Usenet. Wasn't that what all the geeks in the computer lab at college were on back in like 1988? What next, oh record labels: going after on-hold music? Commodore 64 music composition programs? Home taping?
  • A dude in a gas mask freaked Annie Lennox out at a concert in Boulder, Colorado on Tuesday night. Lennox saw the man approaching and fled the stage, later apologizing to fans but defending her reaction, calling the guy "freakish and disturbing." The man was also wearing, uh, platform boots and a cape. Is this the hot look this season in Boulder?
  • LJ's Gabby Glaser Goes Solo

    | Fri Oct. 19, 2007 2:23 PM EDT
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    Gabby Glaser's first solo release, Gimme Splash, has all the great sounds that her 90s alternative band Luscious Jackson cranked out: 70s funk and hip-hop inspired drum beats, wah-wah guitar licks, minor-sounding chord progressions and sultry, un-forced vocals.

    But Gimme Splash lacks the soft-touch keyboards of Luscious Jackson. Gone are the higher pitched vocal melodies of Luscious Jackson's lead singer Jill Cunnif. Glaser's 11 songs rock harder, and have her signature lower-register vocal range and fuzz-pedal guitar sounds. After listening to this CD a couple of times, I could definitely pull out my old Luscious Jackson albums and pinpoint exactly which tunes Glaser wrote.

    This is a solid first album that is as sexy as it is tough.

    Dennis Kucinich's Deep Pockets

    | Thu Oct. 18, 2007 5:34 PM EDT

    Last week, Stephen Colbert revealed that pocket-sized Democrat Dennis Kucinich carries a lot of stuff in his pockets—a copy of the Constitution, a union card, a green tea bag, and—courtesy of a 2003 Mother Jones profile by Charles Bowden—a baseball card of Cleveland Indian Rocky Colavito and a quotation from Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno. This week, Kucinich made a good-natured appearance on the Colbert Report, emptying his overtsuffed pockets, and even getting in a nice comeback:

    Colbert: "This is the famous pocket Constitution. Did you shrink this down yourself?"

    Kucinich: "No, no, no. George Bush already did that."

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    Lights Out San Francisco

    | Wed Oct. 17, 2007 6:37 PM EDT

    logo-dark.png Sydney led the way last March. San Francisco is going dark this Saturday night, October 20, from 8-9pm, to send a message on global warming:

    Lights Out San Francisco is a citywide energy conservation event on Oct. 20, 2007. On this night, we invite the entire city of San Francisco to install one compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) and turn off all non-essential lighting for one hour.

    Word has it that both bridges and the Transamerica Pyramid are on board, and many restaurants will offer candlelight dining. There's also a great party going on in Dolores Park. Drop by. . .

    But why just one CFL? And why wait for your city to catch on? Join in from afar.

    Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

    Neato Viddys on the Intertubes: The B-52's

    | Wed Oct. 17, 2007 5:58 PM EDT

    B-52s

    Looking for tunes as part of a random "consulting" assignment led me to the B-52's today, reminding me how much I love them, although you really shouldn't need an excuse for that. Most people will know "Rock Lobster" and "Love Shack," but I was introduced to them by MTV after their 1986 album Bouncing off the Satellites (I was in the middle of Nebraska, how else was I supposed to have heard them?), so let's go backwards from there and look at some of their less-widely-known tracks.

    Terror on the High Seas and the Future of Media

    | Wed Oct. 17, 2007 4:18 PM EDT

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    Here's the update you've all been waiting for. New York media/celebrity gossip blog Gawker passes on a report that pirate attacks (yes) are up 14 percent this year. (Yes, pirates still exist. Now they have power boats and machine guns instead of corsairs and cannons. Yes, Mother Jones has covered pirates in the past. Basically, modern pirates are kind of like Dennis Kucinich: They might need to be taken more seriously, but they're just too amusing to really think critically about.) Anyway, is Nick Denton's Gawker the future of media? Old-media New York magazine investigates.

    Has Rock Lost Its Soul?

    | Tue Oct. 16, 2007 7:30 PM EDT

    Snoop vs. Axl
    Photo collage by Adrian Roberts

    Sasha Frere-Jones opens up the, erm, "race box" in this week's New Yorker with an extended piece lamenting the racial "re-sorting" of popular music. It's a dangerous topic, and he's to be commended for bringing it up, but I'm not sure where it's all going. Frere-Jones wrote an eye-opening (if slightly more specific) essay on the same theme a few years back; called "When Blackface Has No Face," it seemed to lament the lack of, well, current white "minstrels" (his word), or white artists playing music from traditionally black sources. He gives the examples of DJ Shadow and Diplo, both of whom were known for DJ sets celebrating black (and brown) music but solo albums full of "white signifiers" like electric guitars, sluggish tempos and dramatic strings. The current NYer article brings up Arcade Fire and Wilco, but the message is the same: white people are making really, really white music these days. It's an interesting question: why aren't there more white people making hip-hop?